Published On: Thu, Apr 26th, 2018

Kenyon Martin finds second act as star in 3-on-3 basketball

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Kenyon Martin wasn’t looking to resurrect his basketball career until Ice Cube called.

The rap icon and entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz had co-founded BIG3, a three-on-three, gimmick-oriented summer league for hoopers 30 and older. He was searching for retired NBA talent.

“It was something new. It was halfcourt,” Martin told theScore, with a laugh. “It was Ice Cube – everything that he’s touched over the years has been a success since he was a teenager. It was an opportunity to help start something new and give guys of an older age – that the NBA has ruled off – an opportunity to play again.

“A lot of guys feel that they can still play when the phone stopped ringing from NBA teams and overseas teams.”

Martin’s squad, Trilogy, went undefeated in eight regular-season games and remained perfect in the playoffs en route to capturing the league’s inaugural championship in August. The flashy upstart features a novel four-point line, a truncated 14-second shot clock, and nicknames on jerseys.

The 6-foot-9 power forward, who played in the NBA from 2000-2015, was two years into retirement when the Boyz n the Hoodstar approached him about joining the new league. After considering the parties involved and what it would mean for his family, Martin agreed.

“I have a younger daughter, (and) the opportunity for her to see me play weighed heavily on my decision,” he said.

BIG3 experienced growing pains off the bat, with both players and management concerned about length of the contests and injuries (three players went down in the first week, including Martin). From a fan standpoint, it didn’t help that games aired a day late on tape delay. Martin anticipated the early struggles, but never lost faith in the product.

“This is a microwave society. Something new, everybody expects it to flourish right away,” he said. “They don’t expect any hiccups of a new business. Any new business that you start up, there are going to be problems early on because it’s new. After Week 1 in Brooklyn, we figured it out. They made some new rule changes and the play got better, guys got in better shape, and therefore the play got better.

“Everybody’s excited for Season 2.”

Martin, 40, said the league heeded the advice of its talent, shortening the games (it’s now first to 50, not 60), hiring trainers, and ensuring players have the necessities required to prepare. What’s more, BIG3 secured live broadcast rights on FOX Sports for its second season, which tips off June 22.

The 2018 campaign will feature more ex-NBAers from Martin’s era, including onetime All-Stars like Chauncey Billups, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jermaine O’Neal, Rashard Lewis, Baron Davis, Carlos Boozer, and Metta World Peace. There will also be several Hall of Famers manning the sidelines, with Allen Iverson, Julius Erving, Gary Payton, George Gervin, and Rick Barry all serving as coaches.

Despite their relatively advanced age, Martin said there’s no shortage of competitive spirit and skill in BIG3, which fields eight six-man teams.

“It’s halfcourt, but it’s still guys that’s playing at a high level, and it’s competitive,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. If it wasn’t competitive, I wouldn’t play, because I don’t know how to play any other way. In my opinion it might be more competitive than this new NBA.”

One of basketball’s most notorious enforcers, Martin’s hard-nosed approach made him a fan favorite while suiting up for the New Jersey Nets, Denver Nuggets, L.A. Clippers, New York Knicks, and Milwaukee Bucks. And between allegedly sending a friend to confront a heckler, engaging in a shouting match with an opposing team’s owner, and getting suspended by his coach during the playoffs, Martin accrued more than $100,000 in fines over a very colorful career.

In Martin’s heyday, the NBA featured much more physical play. Hand-checking, for example, was curtailed before the 2004-05 season. The BIG3 encourages players to revert to an old school style, which Martin believes is appealing to fans.

“The BIG3 is allowing us to play how we did in the late ’90s and early 2000s,” said Martin, who averaged 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds over his 15-year career, which was derailed by knee injuries. “Nothing overboard, good competitive trash-talking, and competitive basketball. Hard fouls. Not trying to be malicious or hurting anyone. Playing the full aspect of the game, which I think the NBA now is geared toward getting up and down the court and scoring, shooting threes, and all that.

“There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you like. We’re giving true basketball fans another way to watch the game.”

BIG3 has failed to land a whale who might propel the league into the mainstream, although Ice Cube has grand visions of getting Kobe Bryant to sign on. BIG3 players earn a base salary of $100,000, plus bonuses based on team performance. Martin, who made $113 million over his NBA career, believes wages aren’t the main impediment to attracting superstars.

“I don’t think it’s because of money. I think it’s because of the commitment to get back in shape, time restraints, other business endeavors. You go out and hoop and earn a decent amount of money for 10 weeks; it’s not bad,” he said, adding his message for players who are on the fence: “If you wanna hoop at a high level, it’s good competitive basketball. That’s what it is. You gotta be ready to go.”

Martin isn’t sure how many more years of competitive basketball he has left in the tank. However, he intends to continue his involvement with BIG3 after he hangs up his sneakers. He’s a firm believer in its staying power, saying: “I don’t think it’s going anywhere.”

“I don’t know how much longer I’m going to play, but me stepping to the other side of it, maybe not coaching, but definitely the front-office side of it because I see this thing flourishing,” Martin said. “One thing we do know is that guys are getting older, and they’re gonna still want to play the game of basketball. And this is just going to be a different avenue for guys to come in and play.”

The Cincinnati graduate, who has a degree in criminal justice, could very well be suited for a management position given his role in assembling Trilogy.

“One thing I know well is the game of basketball. I know talent and I know what works, when and how, and who can do what, who can’t do this,” he said.

Per BIG3 rules, Trilogy must defend its title in 2018 with the same roster (Al Harrington, Rashad McCants, James White, and Dion Glover), plus one new player (Dahntay Jones) due to league-wide roster expansion.

“I like our chances because we’ve been together,” he said. “We’ve played together for 10 weeks, and everybody else, I think it’s gonna take them a few weeks to figure it out – how they’re gonna play, and who’s gonna be what role and all of that. That we have in our favor, but we still have to go out and compete, the games are still gonna be competitive so I’ve looking forward to it.”

A second BIG3 championship would be icing on the cake for Martin, who’s thought long and hard about his legacy in the sport.

“First and foremost, (I want to be remembered as) a great person. A great father. Somebody who always cared about the game of basketball and life equally,” he said. “The thing that I get now that I’m most proud of from fans is people coming up to me and telling me, ‘I appreciate the way you played the game.’ That’s the biggest compliment you can get from people that what you play.”

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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